10 Questions that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings must answer

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The recent statements by Boris Johnson and No.10 regarding Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham have raised more questions than they’ve answered. There needs to be a proper independent investigation to get answers to these questions, rather than a trial by media.

The lack of an independent investigation should not stop us from getting answers to the outstanding question. Here are the key outstanding questions that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings need to answer:

  1. Why do Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings consider that Cummings’ actions were in keeping with the Government guidance and the lockdown regulations. In particular, why do they consider that Cummings had a “reasonable excuse” (as is required by the lockdown regulations to leave your home)?
  2. Did Dominic Cummings seek advice from any part of government, either prior to or subsequent from, his trip to Durham on either the legality of his actions or whether he was in full adherence to the guidance in place at the time?
  3. Why were there not alterative arrangements for back-up childcare in / nearer to London that would have met the particular needs of Cummings’ son?
  4. Did Cummings and his family stop at any point during their trip from London to Durham?
  5. Is it the Government’s view that it is compliant with the Government guidance and the lockdown regulations for others in the same circumstances as Dominic Cummings to act in the same way? This is a yes/no question.
  6. Did Cummings, his wife and his son remain self-isolated throughout their stay in Durham?
  7. Why did Dominic Cummings visit Barnard Castle on 12 April? Why do Johnson and Cummings consider this trip to have been compliant with the Government guidance and the lockdown regulations?
  8. What steps has Boris Johnson taken to verify Dominic Cummings’ account?
  9. Why was the No.10 statement about police speaking to Cummings’ family inconsistent with Durham Constabulary’s statements?
  10. When did Boris Johnson / No.10 find out about Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham? It appears that on 30 March No.10 told the press that Dominic Cummings was self-isolating at home when he was in fact in Durham. Will No.10 publish any state ments that were issued in relation to Dominic Cummings on 30 March? What information did No.10 base its statements on and who was responsible for them?

Omar Salem writes in a personal capacity.

Updated: How do you solve a problem like Dominic Cummings?


Dominic Cummings is never far from controversy. Revelations that he and his wife made the 264-mile journey from London to Durham with their son in late March have led to calls for his resignation for breaching government guidelines and legislation on the lockdown.

It is easy to call for resignations but it is important that we take a calm and considered look at the circumstances and whether Dominic Cummings behaviour did indeed breach government guidance and legislation.

The lockdown restrictions are a huge infringement on people’s freedoms and human rights and they should be enforced fairly for everyone. We all have an interest in a sensible and proportionate approach being taken. What Cummings did may indeed have been a breach of the guidance and/or regulations but there needs to be careful thought about all cases where there these types of allegations rather than rushing to judgment.

Despite, in my view, that Dominic Cummings is an objectionable and dishonest character, we need to approach these situations with humanity and think about what we would do in similar circumstances. I would certainly want to make sure my daughter was looked after by someone I trusted if I had Covid-19 and my condition deteriorated. This was not just a matter of wanting ordinary childcare, it was quite possible that Cummings or his wife would need to be admitted to hospital or even have died.

It is also worth remembering that there is a, probably necessary, gap between: (i) what government communications say people can do; (ii) what the guidance says people can do; and (iii) what is an offence under the lockdown regulations.

Some stuff will be in goverment communications but not reflected in guidance or legislation because it is not practical to communicate all the details of the restrictions. Also, guidance should generally be guidance because it is not reasonable to make it mandatory (e.g. because there are circumstances where it is reasonable not to follow the guidance, including circumstances that the drafters know they might not envisage).

No 10 statement

No. 10 Downing Street has issued the following statement regarding the situation:

Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.

His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to, but separate from, his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.

At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.

His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines.

Durham Constabulary statement

Durham Constabulary have issued the following statement regarding Cummings:

On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.

What the government guidance says

This guidance for households with possible coronavirus infections was first published by the Government on 12 March 2020. The 24 March 2020 version, which seems to have been the version in force at the time of Dominic Cummings’ trip, states:

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.

So, the starting point, based on the No.10 statement regarding what happened, is that Dominic Cummings’s wife would have been required to self-isolate for 7 days from getting symptoms and Dominic Cummings and their son will have needed to self-isolate for 14 days from that point. The guidance is different for the point from which Dominic Cummings got symptoms but it appears that he made the trip prior to having symptoms.

However, the guidance then states the following:

If you are living with children

Keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible. What we have seen so far is that children with coronavirus appear to be less severely affected. It is nevertheless important to do your best to follow this guidance.

This guidance is vague but does allow scope for Cummings to argue that he did not breach the guidance as he followed it to the best of his ability, as explained in the No.10 statement.

What the lockdown regulations require

The lockdown regulations at the time of Cummings’ trip to Durham include an offence for anyone who during the lockdown period leaves the place where they are living without reasonable excuse. There is a non-exhaustive list of reasonable excuses, including “to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm”. Cummings may argue that he falls with this (although the word “escape” does not naturally fit his circumstances) or that he had a reasonable excuse, bearing in mind also that what he did may have been allowed under the guidance.

A court in considering the Cummings case would need to take into account human rights issues, including the right to life and family life. We should not forget that how you care for your child is a very personal decision and we should not impinge on people’s choices in this area any more than is necessary and justified (just as the police using drones to monitor people is overkill).

Need for a full investigation

We don’t know all the facts, so we need a proper investigation of all the facts under the Ministerial Code, before determining whether Cummings breached the guidance and/or the lockdown regulations and whether there was a No.10 cover-up. Labour is right that the No.10 statement raises more questions that it answers. The following questions are least need to be answered:

  1. Were there not alterative arrangements possible for back-up childcare in / nearer to London?
  2. Did Cummings, his wife and his son remain self-isolated throughout their stay in Durham?
  3. Why does there seem to be an inconsistency between the Durham Constabulary and No.10 statements about police speaking to the owners of the property Cummings was staying at?
  4. Were No.10 communications about the situation honest?

Parliamentary scrunity of the lockdown regulations might have helped Cummings

The regulations might have been clearer (and more helpful to Cummings) if there had been Parliamentary scrutiny of them. Ironically, Cummings, amongst others, is likely to have beem involved in the decision for there not to be Parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations before they were put in place. Perhaps one good thing that could come out of this affair is a greater respect for Parliamentary scrutiny from Dominic Cummings!

***UPDATE – 24 May 2020***

Allegations have emerged that Cummings was spotted back in Durham on 19 April, days after he was photographed in London having recovered from the virus, suggesting that he had made a second journey from London to Durham. He also allegedly left the home where he was staying in Durham to visit Barnard Castle, a town 30 miles away, on 12 April.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps MP, said that the second trip did not take place and that Cummings had not returned to Durham since the 14 of April (when he returned to London following his stay in Durham).

Regarding the Barnard Castle trip, Boris Johnson said at today’s press briefing that Cummmings was in isolation for 14 days. Grant Shapps indicated on the Andrew Marr Show that Cummings originally went to Durham on the 27 or 28 March meaning that the period of self-isolation expired by the 12 April.

The guidance that was in place for social distancing at the time is here. This says that you should only leave the house for very limited purposes, including:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.

The lockdown regulations include exclusions in these areas as well as a number of others. It is not clear whether Dominic Cummings trip to Barnard Castle fell into out of the exemptions in the guidance to the requirement to stay at home and/or was a reasonable excuse under the lockdown regulations. Sunday 12 April was Easter Sunday for which the Government launched a huge advertising campaign to urge people to stay at home. On 9 April, Durham constabulary put out a notice asking motorists to respect government advice and that “your daily exercise should be taken as close to your home as possible”.

A proper investigation is needed to get to the bottom of what happened and what Dominic Cummings thinks means that he did not breach the guidance or the lockdown regulations.

Omar Salem writes in a personal capacity.

Open Labour National Committee elections – Why I am standing and what I stand for

It can be hard after 10 years of Tory rule but we need to keep dreaming that we can do better. We need to keep dreaming big and work to make our dreams a reality. I am standing for the Open Labour National Committee because I want to contribute to that work.

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Over the last 5 years, Open Labour has made a huge contribution to the Labour Party and Labour movement. It has not only promoted transformative, left-wing politics but shown that this can be done in an inclusive way that values a pluralistic Labour Party. I enjoy Open Labour events because of their vibrant and comradely nature.

I am standing for the Open Labour National Committee to help Open Labour do even more in future, building on the good work that has already been done. I have set out below the key areas where I would like to see Open Labour leading the debate. I am planning to write a separate piece on organisational aspects of Open Labour.

I would be grateful for feedback and comments, whether on something you think I have not got right, missed out or otherwise. You can contact me here.

1. Covid-19 – putting people first

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We must be clear that in responding to Covid-19 we must put people’s wellbeing first before business and economic considerations. That means not easing the lockdown until it is genuinely safe to do so and there is a proper track and tracing system in place. Of course, health and care workers should be supplied with the PPE they need and there should be stronger safeguards to ensure all workers are as safe as possible. We must stand with trade unions as they fight to protect their members.

Economic considerations should of course be taken into account to the extent that they impact wellbeing, but they should not be the basis of decision-making. We also need to make sure that those who are facing economic hardship get the support they need, for example through rent cancellations.

Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting BAME people and we must put in place measures to address this. Victims of domestic violence are also at considerable risk as a result of the lock-down and better support needs to be provided for them.

The government is developing a tracing app to help with combatting Covid-19. New legislation is needed to protect the data collected by it and maximise the chances of the public trusting the app, as suggested by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

2. Build back better

Hang In There. Image created by Ayşegül Altınel. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.

After the Covid-19 pandemic is over, we cannot just go back to business as usual. We should ensure that we build a more equal and closer-knit society after this crisis. No one should earn less than the living wage and our public service workers should get the pay they deserve, not year after year of wage freezes. It is appalling that the government is already ending help that was put in place for rough sleepers earlier in the Covid-19 crisis.

We need to put in place a centrally funded National Care Service that provides high quality care for our elderly, as well as decent pay and working conditions for staff.

Already, the right is arguing that after the Covid-19 crisis is over fresh round of austerity is needed. Open Labour needs to be at the forefront of developing a political strategy and communications to make the case for building back better to a more equitable society.

3. A good wage economy

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A core priority for Labour must be secure jobs with good wages. Wages in the UK have stagnated since the 2007-8 financial crisis. To address this we need to increase productivity, for example through investment in education and infrastructure, while also ensuring that workers get a fair share of productivity increases. We also need to improve employment protections and to move away from a long-hours economy.

I would like to see Open Labour lead the debate on how to bring about the changes we need to make to the economy. 

4. Properly funded public services

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Our public services have suffered from a decade of austerity and the impact is showing. We need to ensure public services are properly funded. For example, over the past decade, as part of austerity, money that was meant to be spent on NHS equipment and buildings was diverted by the government to be used for day-to-day running costs. There is a £6.5 billion maintenance backlog, £3.4 billion of which presents a high or significant risk to patients and staff. I set up the Rebuild Our Health Service to fight for the funding that the NHS needs for new buildings and equipment.

5. International solidarity

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I am proud of Labour’s internationalism and will always defend it, whether that is welcoming refugees or supporting a close relationship with the EU. I was strongly opposed to Brexit and campaigned for a referendum on the Brexit deal. As I argue in this article, we should not give into nativist forces but rather find socialist responses.

We need an extension to the transition period to stop a no-deal Brexit and to fight for as close a relationship to the EU as possible. 

6. Defending and extending human rights

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When the Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation of Parliament was not legal, the Tories vowed to get revenge. They want to reduce the independence of the judiciary, weaken the ability of the public to challenge government through judicial review and undermine or even scrap the Human Rights Act. At the same time, legal aid has been slashed, depriving people of vital legal support in areas such as housing and employment. Open Labour should be at the forefront of defending human rights and extending human rights protections to include economic and social rights.  

7. Benefits with dignity not stigma

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Those receiving benefits are some of the most vulnerable in society. Labour has pledged to scrap universal credit but we need to replace it with a new system that treats benefit recipients with dignity and gives them the help they need. We need to substantially increase benefit levels as well as radically improving the support that is offered, whether that be with job seeking, training or to address health problems. I would like to see Open Labour developing ideas and policies in this area, looking at good practice from around the world.

8. Popularising a green new deal

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Labour had great policies for a Green New Deal in our last manifesto but somehow the idea did not cut through with the public. I would like to see Open Labour work on how we can communicate policies in this area better, as the climate emergency cannot wait.

9. Fighting discrimination

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Labour stands for nothing if it does not stand for equality for all. As a member of the Open Labour National Committee, I will fight racism, sexism, antisemitism, transphobia and every form of discrimination. 

Labour cannot tackle discrimination in society unless it deals with it within the party. Labour prided itself as a party of anti-racism, feminism and decency but this reputation has been tarnished in recent year. We need to take decisive action to ensure that decency prevails in the Labour Party, that we foster a culture of inclusion and respect, and drive antisemites, islamophobes, racists, misogynists, harassers, trolls and their ilk from the Labour Party.

I have drafted a plan for decency in the Labour Party, which has been published by Open Labour, with a detailed plan to fight discrimination and harassment in the Labour Party.

10. Improving Labour’s culture

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Like every Labour Party member, I was disappointed to read the recent reports of the behaviour of senior Labour Party officials and failures to deal with antisemitism. However, like many members, I was not surprised. It has been clear for some time that the behaviour of many in the Labour Party and the culture that has developed is not in keeping with Labour’s ideals.

I think Open Labour’s response to the leaked report was excellent. As a member of the Open Labour National Committee I would like to help contribute to these kinds of thoughtful and clear contributions to the debate within the Labour Party. I have written for LabourList on how Labour’s internal culture could be improved and am proud the Open Labour has set such a good example for the rest of the party.

SAGE to make recommendations on face covering in public on Tuesday

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Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief Scientific Officer, has confirmed that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) should be making recommendations on Tuesday about the wearing of face coverings in public.

More and more countries around the world are requiring or recommending that everyone wears face coverings in public. More details about this and why this is thought to be a good idea are here.

SAGE’s advice must be shared with the media and public as soon as it is finalised.

The Government should make wearing face masks mandatory

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Around the world, wearing a face mask in public has been made compulsory for everyone. This includes Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania states in the US, municipalities in France, Taiwan, Austria, the Czech Republic, Solvakia, Lombardy and parts of Germany.
In many countries, wearing a mask is now recommended even if it is not mandatory. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that people use at least use a simple cloth face covering when they are in public spaces. The German Ministry of Health has isssued similar guidance.
The mandating and recommending that the public wear face masks is based on the idea that wearing a mask reduces the chance of the person wearing the mask transmitting Covid-19 (“my mask protects you, your mask protects me.”).
The CDC issued its advice after reviewing recent evidence on the transmission of infections. A team of researchers led by data scientist Jeremy Howard has also carried out an evidence review to assess the effectiveness of face masks at reducing the spread of face masks. This found that:

“The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when compliance is high. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low. Thus we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies.”

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and colleagues have argued for the use of masks on a precautionary basis, despite the face that the “efficacy and acceptability of the different types of face mask in preventing respiratory infections during epidemics is sparse and contested”. There advice is as follows:

“In conclusion, in the face of a pandemic the search for perfect evidence may be the enemy of good policy. As with parachutes for jumping out of aeroplanes, it is time to act without waiting for randomised controlled trial evidence. A recently posted preprint of a systematic review came to the same conclusion. Masks are simple, cheap, and potentially effective. We believe that, worn both in the home (particularly by the person showing symptoms) and also outside the home in situations where meeting others is likely (for example, shopping, public transport), they could have a substantial impact on transmission with a relatively small impact on social and economic life.”

However, the WHO and UK are not currently recommending that everyone should wear a mask in public. This seems to be, at least partly, because they want to prioritise masks for health care workers and those who are showing symptoms of Coronavirus. However, the masks that it is being suggested the public wear are not surgical masks, but cloth masks that are different from those that are needed for healthcare settings.

Public Health England says the following about facemasks:

“Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals but there’s very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings. Facemasks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly and disposed of safely in order to be effective.”

Jeremy Howard and Professor Trisha Greenhalgh OBE have launched a campaign, Masks4All, calling for guidance for and mandating of the wearing of face masks in public. In the UK, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also backed the wearing of face masks in public.

Reportedly, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which advises the government, has commissioned research on the effectivness of masks for limiting the spread of Coronavirus. There needs to be a clear timetable for that research. The research needs to be made available and a decision made about making mask wearing compulsory urgently. Unless SAGE and the government can provide a clear and compelling explanation for why face mask wearing should not be compulsory, then the UK should require everyone to wear face masks in public.

Proposed amendments to the Coronavirus Bill

On Monday, Parliament will consider the Coronavirus Bill as fast-track legislation, which the government is using with the aim of having all stages of the Bill dealt with by the Commons and the Lords on Monday.

The Bill deals with a wide range of issues relating to Coronavirus, from registering health professionals more easily to legal requirements relating to cremations and inquests. The explanatory notes to the Bill give an overview of it.

A number of amendments have been tabled by MPs. The amendments can be viewed here. I have summarised some that seem particularly important below.

  • Amendment 1 (Harriet Harman): This amendment would cause the Act to automatically expire 6 months (rather than 2 years) after it is passed, unless Parliament agreed to a 6 month extension. The amendment is backed by Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, Joanna Cherry from the SNP, Alistair Carmichael and Layla Moran from the Lib Dems and Caroline Lucas from the Greens, amnongst others. Jeremy Corbyn has put down a similar amendment (amendment 4) for the Labour Party.
  • Amendment 8 (David Davis): This removes the ability to alter the expiry date for provisions in the Bill.
  • New Clause 2 (Chris Bryant): This provides for debates to be held promptly on amendable motions (which means Parliament can pass a motion expressing a view) on status reports that the government needs to make every 2 months on provisions of the Bill that impinge most on civil liberties. It also means Parliament can terminate the exercising of powers under the Act by not approving the related status report it receives. Chris Bryant has also tabled New Clause 3, which provides for Parliament to be recalled from adjournment or prorogation to debate the 2 monthly status reports.
  • New Clause 4 (Jeremy Corbyn): This requires the Prime Minister to make, and lay before Parliament, arrangements to ensure that everyone in the United Kingdom has access to the basic means of living including food, water, fuel, clothing, income and housing, employing all available statutory and prerogative powers.
  • New Clause 5 (Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson): This requires the government to issue guidance on identification, support and assistance for victims of slavery or human trafficking during the coronavirus emergency.
  • New Clause 6 (Bob Seely): This creates a power for the Secretary of State, or relevant Minister in the devolved Administrations, to issue a direction to ferry, bus and rail operators to: (a) work together to produce a plan for the continuing provision of a resilient transport service to isolated and island communities; and (b) implement the plan to a specified timescale.
  • New Clause 7 and New Schedule 1 (Stuart C McDonald): This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult with the Chief Medical Officer or one of the Deputy Chief Medical Officers on the impact of no recourse to public funds rules on preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination. The Secretary of State must then make such amendments to no recourse to public funds rules as considered necessary in light of the consultation. There is a similar requirement to consult with the Chief Medical Officer on immigration detention and assylum processes. There is also a requirement to to end the detention of any individual who cannot be removed imminently, consistent with preventing, protecting against, controlling and providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination. The New Schedule also requires the Secretary of State to allow for leave to remain for individuals whose previous leave expires during the period in which the Act is in force, or whose leave expired in the 14 days prior to the date on which the Act is passed.
  • New Clause 8 (Munira Wilson): This requires a school or provider of 16 to 18 education that closes because of the coronavirus outbreak to ensure that its pupils continue to receive educational provision (e.g. through videoconferencing or setting assignments).
  • New Clause 9 (Munira Wilson): This significantly increases the standard allowance of universal credit, jobseekers’ allowance and employment and support allowance so that for the tax year beginning on 6 April 202: (a) an individual not in work will be awarded at least £150 per week, and (b) a couple who are both not in work will be awarded at least £260a week. It also provides that for the tax year beginning on 6 April 2020, households newly claiming universal credit receive an advance of their first payment by default and suspends the sanctions regime for claimants of universal credit, jobseeker’s allowance and Employment and Support Allowance in the tax year beginning on 6 April 2020.
  • New Clause 11 (Munira Wilson): This increases statutory sick pay from £94.25 to £220.
  • New Clause 13 (Munira Wilson): This creates a system of statutory self-employment pay set at: (a) 80% of monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years, or (b) £2,917 whichever is lower.
  • New Clause 14 (Munira Wilson): This requires that within 10 days of the Bill being passed the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a comprehensive report outlining how the Government will guarantee provisions for social care while the Act is in force.

UPDATE: I understand Labour is in the process of putting down additional amendments.

We need Keir Starmer as Labour leader so he can fight for our human rights

Gavin Millar QC, who gave Keir Starmer his first legal job as a pupil barrister, said about him “Keir’s purpose when he became a lawyer was not to make a fortune, or to build a glorious reputation…His purpose was the same as all of us in that generation who had been radicalised by Margaret Thatcher. We wanted to change the world, and we wanted to do it by using the law to entrench stronger human rights and civil liberties. That was absolutely true of Keir too.” Yet Keir was also driven by social justice, wanting to reduce inequality and lift people out of poverty.

Keir’s passion for the civil and political rights grew out of his commitment to economic and social justice. Without effective civil and political rights, economic and social rights can be sidelined.

As one of the leading barristers of the day, Keir Starmer was successful in protecting his client’s rights. He defended the miners, print workers at Wapping, the dockers in Dover, the poll tax protesters and environmental activists, as well as across the globe, and particularly in the Caribbean. Starmer’s research laid the groundwork for the Human Rights Act by showing how the previous hands-off approach to civil liberties was not working. He made contributions to developing the law in a whole range of areas of human rights, including the law of armed conflict, protest law, LGBT rights, fair trial rights and the prohibition of torture. As the Labour Government did all it could to bring peace to Northern Ireland, Starmer advised the Police Service of Northern Ireland on human rights compliant policing. As Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer prosecuted Stephen Lawrence’s killers and reformed the approach to prosecution of rape so as to secure more convictions.

Starmer knew the world could not be changed through law alone and in 2015, he was elected as an MP. His presence in the Commons could not be more timely. Starmer’s legal background could come in more handy than ever if he is elected as Labour Party leader. Not only will he need to forensically unpick the government on how it handles everything from Brexit to the floods, but he will need to persuade the public why they should be concerned by the Tories’ attacks on human rights and democracy.

An indication of the government’s disdain for human rights and the rule of law was its attempt to progue Parliament to prevent votes on Brexit. That was stopped by the Supreme Court but now that the Tories have been re-elected with an 80 seat majority they are set on getting their revenge. This was presaged by the Conservative manifesto that promised a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission”. Its remit is to include the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts, the royal prerogative, the House of Lords, “access to justice for ordinary people” and the Human Rights Act. What this really means is undermining democracy, attacking the independence of the judiciary, reducing the ability to challenge government decisions and removing human rights protections.

If appointing a Home Secretary who has expressed support for the death penalty was not enough, Boris Johnson’s recent cabinet reshuffle showed his direction of travel. He elevated Suella Braverman to the role of Attorney General, who recently wrote that “our Parliament must retrieve power ceded to another place – the courts”. The Tories want to command a tyranny of the majority – although due to the British voting system it is actually a minority – to trammel over the rule of law and human rights.

The Tories are attacking our human rights on at least five fronts. Firstly, they want to limit the scope of judicial review – such as that of prorogation or the plans for a third runway at Heathrow. Judicial review allows the government to be challenged in the courts if it exceeds its powers or takes decisions unlawfully, such as not taking into account factors that they are legally required to consider. Secondly, the government wants to undermine the independence of judiciary so that judges are less likely to take decisions it does not like. Thirdly, the government is looking to take us out of the European Convention for Human Rights, so that we have fewer rights to protect us from the government. Fourthly, the Tories have been reducing legal aid, so that fewer people are able to afford to challenge unfair decisions in the courts. Finally, the government has been looking to undermine the BBC and other media organisations, so that when they act illegally or wrongly there is less scrutiny of what they are doing.

The Tory onslaught on democracy and the rule of law needs a forensic, passionate and steadfast opposition. Keir Starmer’s record of standing up for human rights and justice makes him uniquely placed to do this. If he is elected Labour Party leader, he will expose the flaws in the Tories arguments and explain why we must all fight to protect our human rights. The issues of democracy and the rule of law fuse politics and law. Keir Starmer has the legal and political skills to take Boris on over these issues and defend our rights. His time is now.

A plan for decency in the Labour Party

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Labour prided itself as a party of anti-racism, feminism and decency but this reputation has been tarnished in recent year. We need to take decisive action to ensure that decency prevails in the Labour Party, that we foster a culture of inclusion and respect, and drive antisemites, islamophobes, racists, misogynists, harassers, trolls and their ilk from the Labour Party.

This document sets out a plan for decency in the Labour Party. It includes measures to fight discrimination and harassment in the Labour Party. The measures aim to ensure there is effective action to deal with unacceptable behaviour, education programmes to identify and prevent it.  This includes putting in place the policies, procedures and governance that are needed to deal with this problem.  

The core components of the plan are set out here. In summary, the 15 proposals are:

  1. An independent disciplinary process
  2. Retaining the IHRA definition of antisemitism
  3. A clear deadline for dealing with complaints
  4. No time-limits for making complaints
  5. Same-sex complaint handlers
  6. Indicative tariff for disciplinary sanctions
  7. Punishment for undermining the disciplinary process
  8. Regular reporting on the performance of the disciplinary purpose
  9. A ban on sharing of platforms with those have been expelled
  10. Mandatory diversity, equality political education and ant-bullying training
  11. Requiring all Labour candidates and elected representatives to confirm their commitment to non-discrimination
  12. Audit of past cases
  13. Better engagement with representatives of discriminated against groups
  14. A clear communication programme
  15. A plan for promoting an open, respectful and democratic culture in the Labour Party

This is an area where it is important to take care to ensure that there are not unintended consequences from the policies adopted. The plan therefore aims to set out a framework for action in this area but will need to be subject to revision and refinement to make sure it is as effective as possible, taking into account feedback. It also in some cases sets out different possible options for consideration.

Labour’s new disciplinary processes for discrimination and harassment should be designed and developed with the close involvement of BAME Labour, Labour Women’s Network, Jewish Labour Movement, the Labour Party Irish Society, Chinese for Labour, Christians on the Left, Disability Labour and LBGT Labour. These groups have invaluable knowledge of the discrimination their members face and Labour should make sure it draws upon it.

The plan is in large part based on Jewish Labour Movement’s (“JLM”) submission to Labour race and faith manifesto consultation and the ten pledges that the Board of Deputies of British Jews is asking Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates to support. However, it sets out greater detail how the proposals by JLM and the Board of the Deputies could work and attempts to address some of the concerns raised about them. In particular, the following concerns are addressed:

  • The concern that having an independent provider would compromise party democracy is addressed by suggesting that the independent provider could work to guidelines agreed by Labour’s National Executive Committee (the “NEC”).
  • The concern that lifetime bans may not be appropriate on the basis people should have the opportunity to reform has been addressed by making lifetime bans optional.
  • The concern about preventing supporting, campaigning for or providing a platform for those who have been suspended for discriminatory conduct should not prevent supporting the challenging of disciplinary decisions because the NEC guidelines have not been applied correctly or there has been an error of fact in the decision.
  • The concern that the use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (“IHRA”) definition of antisemitism could prevent legitimate criticism of Israel or campaigning for the rights of the Palestinians is addressed by proposing that Labour retain the statement made by the NEC when it adopted the IHRA definition in full with all examples that this does not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.
  • The concern that Labour should not be prevented from engaging with smaller groups within a minority group has been addressed by making clear that this is meant to only prevent engagement with fringe groups that are not committed to non-discrimination, such as Jewish Voice for Labour.

Some have also suggested that Labour should wait until the results of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“ECHR”) has reported on its investigation into the Labour Party and antisemitism. However, it cannot be right that Labour should sit on its hands rather than make changes to deal with the problems with its disciplinary process. We should want the ECHR to report acknowledging that Labour had taken action on this issue not saying that we have done nothing while it has been investigating. There has been no indication from the ECHR that Labour should wait for its report before making improvements to its disciplinary processes.

This document is meant to a contribution to the discussion about what Labour does about antisemitism, bulling and harassment. It does not purport to have all the answers but is meant to be an organic document that will develop over time. It is put forward in good faith and it is hoped everyone will engage with it on that basis. Hopefully, all the Labour Party leadership and deputy leadership candidates will support all or some of it, especially as it aims to address concerns that some of them have raised.

The presence of antisemitism, discrimination, bullying and harassment in the Labour Party is a stain on it. It is time to deal with these shameful circumstances, working closely with Labour’s affiliates, with decisive, considered, and firm action. This plan sets out how this could be done.

To read the full document click here.